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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Apocalypse CD (album) cover


Mahavishnu Orchestra

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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The Owl
4 stars Johnny Mac was not one to do things halfway, that's for sure! Not only forming a new and larger version of MO, but also enlisting the aid of orchestrator Michael Gibbs, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony, he creates a song cycle of incredible color, passion, variety and power.

Among the highlights are Jean Luc Ponty's soaring lead violin passages, the fiery rhythm section of Ralphe Armstrong and Narada Michael Walden and of course Johnny Mac's compositions and the London Symphony giving its all.

On the minus side is Gayle Moran's howling at the moon on"Smile Of The Beyond", easily the weak track, but the other songs make you forget that in a heck of a hurry.

Hard to pick a favorite as each song (save for "Smile--") is so strong and compelling. "Power of Love" is downright spellbinding between Ponty's soaring violin, the orchestra providing a subtly shifting landscape and McLaughlin's somber acoustic guitar. "Vision Is A Naked Sword" is one of the scariest pieces of music I've ever heard, I mean this is "wrath of God, end of the world" type stuff here, not for the faint of heart. "Wings of Karma" is a nice orchestral interlude and the closer, "Hymn to Him" is beyond description, tear-jerkingly beautiful and wrecklessly fierce at the same time. Gotta love how Ponty and Johnny Mac fire phrases back and forth with the full symphony.

The only other gripe I have is the fact that John's guitar was not recorded that well, sounding very tinny and harsh, not having the full, thick meaty tone he's normally known for. Otherwise, the production quality is first class, with veteran Beatles producer George Martin at the helm.

One star off for "Smile Of The Beyond". If that wasn't there. this would been 5 stars easily. Despite that, grab this and play it at 11! Especially "Vision Is A Naked Sword".

Report this review (#22493)
Posted Tuesday, December 9, 2003 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars With the first line-up of MO now gone, McLaughlin instantly went back to work, recreating a group, which had yet to reach its goals of mixing Stravinsky and jazz-rock. So recruiting Ponty and Gayle Moran in the forefront, and adding Narada Walden and Armstrong in rhythm section behind him, technically MO was no worse off. If Ponty and Armstrong were better than Goodman and Laird (this is debatable and certainly not flagrant), he was losing out on Hammer and Cobham being replaced with Moran and Walden (and anything but that obvious) but the group was still top notch, especially adding a small string section.

This fan once dismissed this album a tad because of the heavy string arrangements it contains, but with age, Apocalypse is probably becoming THE album that MO had set out to make right from the start: it is probably the one closest achieving the Stravinsky realm and not just because of the orchestra, but in its writing concept. A fairly long album (over the 50 minutes), Apocalypse is a bold and daring move, especially risking the "Orchestra and group" thing, missed by Deep purple and but almost transformed into a touchdown by Caravan and Procol Harum, here still more convincingly so, even if Sir George Martin botches up the job, much the way he's done it with Stackridge's Bowler Hat album. Indeed, if Sir George was indisputable in the 60's with the fab four, he was not quite up to par in the following decade: he's responsible for the cheesiest moments of this album.

After the slow-crescendoing Power Of Love, where strings of all kinds are echoing the same feeling than on Carlos and Alice's Illuminations album, the album plunges deeply (and darkly) with the impressive Vision Is A Naked Sword, where the Orchestra is magnifying the exploits of the group and Narada's drumming is wowing everyone. The 14 minutes of this track are simply awesome, changing perpetually, alternating group, orchestra and both fused passages and a solid Mc solo. The first side closes on the very slow and cheesy intro with strings accompanying Gayle Moran's very average singing, before the track finally jumps into shape halfway through, Gayle getting some help from Narada and apparently Armstrong as well in the middle section. But as quick as it came, the group disappears to leave the orchestra to close up cheesily.

Just two tracks on the flipside with Wings Of Karma starting on very Stravinskyan orchestra (Spring's Rite comes to mind) before Ponty leads the grouping a wild fusion of molten lava, the orchestra enhancing the group's depth of sound. The huge epic Hymn To Him is the centrepiece of the album and one of the main achievements of Mc's MO, all line-up considered. Indeed the Hymn is more an ode as to how to fuse classical jazz and rock music together and somehow it manages the feat in a way that very few others managed (if at all). There are moments when the over-powering strings are laying it a bit thick and a certain lack of finesse can be seen, but this is a very minor gripe.

Apocalypse was a bold move, one touchdown, but the conversion kick bouncing off the poles, but the point totals were enough for MO to have won the bet high-handedly. I'd say the album's best moments are when the orchestra is at the service of the group or when parts of the group help out the orchestra, but when the orchestra is left to do the majority of the music in a given moments, it sounds too awkward for this listener. Nevertheless an essential album that represent fusion at its best.

Report this review (#22494)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars The early recordings of John McLaughlin and the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA remain amongst my favourites in the world of prog fusion. "Apocalypse" featured the re-formed MAHAV's line up with Jean Luc Ponty (violin) and Michel Walden (percussionist) and the added orchestral genius of George Martin. "Apocalypse" was a very different album from the early days of pure frenzied fusion and really takes classical and fusion a pulls them together in a leaner style. In 1974 the idea of meshing classical and contemporary sounds were very much in style and lots of progressive rock bands played in this arena. Make no mistake my friends, "Apocalypse" is pure genius and the progressive mix of orchestral jazz/prog/fusion will definitely keep you up at night. Songs build with full orchestral support into some pretty monumental musical moments. Of course there is still a whole lot of MAHAV instrumentation which will keep you amazed. McLaughlin's guitar with Ponty's violin strokes and Walden's drumming... what else could you ask for. Definitely an essential recording from my perspective and one that does something very different from the rest. A true progressive set... Brilliant...!
Report this review (#22495)
Posted Saturday, March 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Considered by many the lesser album in their discography, Apocalypse was my introduction to MO and remains a favorite of mine many years later. It is one of the more successful attempts to mix jazz fusion or progressive rock with orchestration (for another good try see Yes' Magnification). The album starts out with a beautiful acoustic guitar overture which I heard used by NPR as the intro to one of their jazz shows. The album builds powerfully and the guitar and violin work smoulders. And I find Smile of the Beyond to be incredibly powerful and uplifting. Not so much the intro/outro which features Gayle Moran's operatics (though I don't see anything wrong with it). But the instrumental break in the middle, with McLaughlin and Ponty trading off fiery Hendrix-inspired leads over the incredibly funky bass of Armstrong, is for me the highlight of the entire album. Not their best or most consistent album but highly recommended.
Report this review (#22498)
Posted Thursday, July 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars The genuine spirit of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was the white hot intensely fused mayhem that appeared on the albums Inner Mounting Flame and Birds Of Fire and when this original five some of McLaughlin/Cobham/Laird/Hammer/Goodman broke up the good name should have been laid to rest. But maybe because they split up so acrimoniously guitarist and founder John McLaughlin felt he had something to prove and that the Mahavishnu Orchestra was his vehicle regardless of the passengers. This album is more like a bus and as nondescript as one yet not as functional, and/or as accessible. George Martin comes in to produce what is a very over indulgent orchestrated affair which has done little for me and simply annoys the hell out of me, and even though McLaughlin continued in the more traditional format after this album with piss poor results and the occasional positive this album is a largely forgettable piece serving little purpose. But hey, don't take my word for it get it and see for yourself. And if you loved the early Mahavishnu Orchestra then you might just hate this or even like it a little bit but it will never be played too often that I can assure you.
Report this review (#35791)
Posted Wednesday, June 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Some albums transcend category: this is one of them. Let your ears approach this as they would any other classical music though, or jazz for that matter. This of course is much easier to do now with the CD version than it was with my well-worn scratchy old vinyl. Even when I did spin my LP of this amazing and innovative musical offering, I almost always played it in its entirety, sometimes twice. This is very "high" music.

Funk coexists with ethereal beauty. Fire and water somehow mix without canceling each other out. Apocalypse comes at you like a swimming sea of thought put into music. Jean Luc is the first officer here, propelling Johnny boy into a stratospheric quest for a unified field of sound. Narada drives them on with snappy snare and thunder.

Yin and Yang meet in perfect balance. Passion builds, but the growing intensity gives way to inter-dimensional excursions of never-ending love. The seemingly unending vibratory conflict resolves itself as a glorious intercourse of sound. Like electronic bees from space, this band is relentless in their pursuit of the sound of "ONE". Ralph is the darkness: the shadow of the ever-rising crescendo. The full body of the chorus sometimes regains control by going in many directions at once. The strings and horns do not solo, yet all act as a single instrument infinite in its discordant harmony.

Then the voice of an angel rings out and cuts the air like a great sword. The diaphanous mists of this mystical moment are soon blown away, and the architecture in the background becomes clear. A choir punctuates a righteous groove. This all takes place on a mysterious plane that few artists have explored, other than the likes of Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Forth Way. Perhaps this is the Muzak on Heaven's elevators. Even having said all that though, it's nice to know on replay that Apocalypse is a treasure that resides slightly above my head.

Report this review (#39880)
Posted Thursday, July 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Through this fourth album, John McLaughlin took grandiose approach to the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra with the use of full orchestra : The London Symphony Orchestra, with its leader: Hugh Beau and Conductor: Michael Tilson Thomas. Not only that, after they recorded three intense albums during 1971-1973, the personnel changed completely for the second version of the group. A reformation of the group in 1974 brought Jean-Luc PONTY on board to play violin, along with a host of new supporting musicians. Gayle Moran, whom I knew the first time with Return To Forever is taking keyboard and vocal jobs. Rick Laird whom previously played bass is now replaced by Ralphe Armstrong while Billy Cobham is replaced by Michael Walden. Jan Hammer is gone too.

With "Power of Love" sees the band in "overture" style using orchestra as rhythm section, the band moves forward with great track "Vision is A Naked Sword". This track combines powerful guitar work by McLaughlin augmented by bass guitar and violin. The full orchestra is also taking part during breaks as well as serving as rhythm section. Jean Luc Ponty provides his violin solo especially during orchestra work. "Smile Of The Beyond" brings - for the first time in Mahavishnu career - vocal into the music. Gayle Moran starts her voice wonderfully at the opening part, accompanied by orchestra. Half-way through, the track is performed in mellow with chanting nuance and Moran's voice, obviously. The other half of the track is fast tempo music in jazz-rock fusion style. I can see Ralphe Armstrong plays dynamic bass lines throughout this segment, accompanying guitar and violin solo. The track returns back to mellow style.

"Wings of Karma" starts ambient with violin and orchestra for approximately 2 minutes at the beginning. The music starts to roll with all instruments played together after minute 2:10. This represents another great thread of violin, guitar solos and orchestra. The orchestra is given more at the end of the track. "Hymn to Him" closes the album in an epic form. This the best track from the album. It combines dynamic collaboration among guitar solo, violin solo, bass guitar, orchestra, keyboard and powerful drumming. I think, for this track itself it's worth to have this album.

It's an excellent addition to any prog music collection. This is the first time I see there is no poem by Sri Chinmoy at the CD sleeve. As most of you might have known, John McLaughlin became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy and and adopted the name Maha (the creator) Vishnu (the preserver). Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#75811)
Posted Friday, April 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars After all the bickering was over and Mahavishnu Orchestra Mk. I ended on a bitter note McLaughlin restructured the Mahavishnu Orchestra and recruited the London Philharmonic Orchestra for his next spiritual excursion. Those captivated by the sizzling razzle dazzle pyrotechnic meltdowns of the previous Mahavishnu creation might be a little let down as McLuaghlin`s guitar becomes a little more subdued on this one.

He actually becomes more adventurous in the composition department and his guitar intertwines nicely with the orchestrations of Michael-Tilson Thomas. Competent musician replacements have Jean Luc Ponty on violin, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, Michael Walden on drums, whose slashing style is a bit more crazy than Cobam`s more forceful style, and Gayle Moran on keyboards. She takes a softer more melodic approach and her playing is nothing like Jan Hammer`s right hand attacks and we even get a vocal from her on Smile of the Beyond. With all the fresh ingredients in place the Mahavishnu Orchestra starts sounding more like an Orchestra rather than a supersonic battle of wits which was beginning to wear a little thin on the previous Between Nothingness and eternity live set.

Definitely an experiment which works well with excellent production from ex-Beatle producer George Martin whose experience is in evidence. As long as the listener can get over the last burning embers of the previous Mahavishnu incarnation, Apocolypse is a gem with McLaughlin exploring even farther into his musical soul.

Report this review (#79883)
Posted Wednesday, May 31, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Ambitious stuff from a reformed Mahavishnu Orchestra, with as it happens a proper orchestra in tow behind them - the London Symphony Orchestra; Michael Tislon Thomas at the helm; and even George Martin adding his name to the credits.

But it's all to flabby and overblown, at least until the final track, "Hymn to Him" really gets going, by which time it's all a bit too late. The fina l track is indeed a real masterpeice but for the rest of the album, compared to the maestro's earlier work, 3 stars is all that can really be afforded. I am grateful that instaed of retreating after this, McGlaughlin went on to bring us such wonders as Shakti, his acoustic album of the music of Bill evans (Time Remebered" and more recently, the excellent "Industrial Zen". This album from time to time holds the listener's attention but is best considered an interesting diversion, somehat apart from the maestro's main body of work.

Report this review (#107896)
Posted Thursday, January 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars With all of the original members of his innovative and surprisingly popular group scattered to the four winds John McLaughlin decided to make the Mahavishnu Orchestra a REAL orchestra and put together an album with the London Symphony acting as a partner and a whole bunch of his virtuoso friends. By that time every type of music had been joined with an orchestra so why not jazz rock/fusion? When this LP appeared on the record racks in 1974 and I saw that George Martin had produced the project I could hardly wait to get home and revel in some high fidelity fireworks. I was hoping to hear more of the wild, exhilarating hold-on-to-your-seat roller coaster thrills that I had enjoyed from the previous incarnation of this unique band.

With a title like "Power of Love" you might brace for a powerful rush out of the gate but it turns out to be a very subdued, soothing blend of muted orchestra, some intricate acoustic guitar and Jean-Luc Ponty's tasteful violin. It may not be what you expected but after you hear it a few times you can better appreciate its aura of peace and beauty. "Vision is a Naked Sword" is next and it's more along the lines of what you probably anticipated from the get-go. It's a bold attempt to meld the symphony with the band but on this particular song the experiment fails from a lack of cohesion. It begins with a very typical Mahavishnu convoluted melody but this time around the orchestra clumsily performs it. I must mention that drummer Narada Michael Walden replaces the phenomenal Billy Cobham and he does an excellent job. There are brief moments when they approach the tightness of the old group but each time they involve the symphony they lose momentum. After a short drum solo and an electric piano ride from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas the orchestra delivers some ascending swirls that hold promise. But then it drops down to McLaughlin riffing on guitar with Ponty eventually adding violin on top. Unfortunately they stay in this guitar segment too long and it becomes quite tedious. The symphony reenters with the original melody but they can't save this inconsistent mess. "Smile of the Beyond" follows and things get unbelievably weird in a hurry. It features Gayle Moran's smooth vocal over an orchestral score that would be right at home in a Broadway production of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. That's not so tragic in itself but imagine that you're in the audience for this show. Abruptly they transition into an uptempo dance sequence with some contemporary chorale work behind the music. Then out stroll John and Jean-Luc to deliver some avant garde, high velocity, slightly out of tune solos! You'd likely say, "This is so ridiculous it's almost laughable! What in the hell are they doing in this song?" Very strange but that's exactly what happens here. Makes no sense whatsoever. The tune ends with Gayle singing the operatic air as if the rude interruption had never taken place. Yark. Moving right along, "Wings of Karma" gets things back on track. A very pretty symphonic score gives way to a jazzy feel with the guitar and violin providing the melody line. McLaughlin and Ponty both turn in excellent rides over the orchestra as they build up to a frenzy before returning to the opening. With "Hymn to Him" they get it right again. The symphony provides an easy-listening background while the guitar and violin add florid noodlings that rise and fall. Then the orchestra starts to play a theme that grows and grows till McLaughlin finally unleashes his electric guitar and delivers his trademark intensity. Things subside for a piano break from Moran which leads to a new melody played by the guitar and violin together as bassist Ralphe Armstrong shows his stuff. Ponty offers up his best solo then the whole thing escalates to supersonic speed and you receive the long-delayed payoff as John and Jean-Luc trade hot licks wedged between some fiery flourishes from the symphony. The twenty-minute song ends as it began with the orchestra and band descending together in a gorgeous grand finale.

In the history of symphonic experimentation there have been more duds than skyrockets. Using that analogy this one's just a sparkler. McLaughlin certainly had an adventurer's spirit with this project yet he could have benefited enormously from a good dose of selective editing and basic common sense. But the engineering and production are top drawer and, since there are five songs and three of them turned out okay, it's a no-brainer to give this one a solid three stars. Just try not to choke on your Dr Pepper when you hear the ludicrous "Smile of the Beyond."

Report this review (#116371)
Posted Sunday, March 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Apocalypse" was the first MAHAVISHNU record I heard back in my teens when I most actively explored prog rock. Then I found it too serious and too distant and even too difficult to comprehend. Recently I gave it another spin in order to write this contribution to PA. Well, I can't say that I was much wrong back then...

This album comprises of elements of what I would call "symphonic fusion" and the band, now featuring different line-up from previous works, is doing an amazing performance. I was never a fan of McLaughlin's speedy guitar technique, but one must pay tribute to his love and confidence towards his musical expression. A remarkable novelty on this record is the presence of J.L. Ponty, jazz-violin virtuoso, who is capable of producing rather spacey and almost psychedelic effects on his electric violin. On the composition side, I am much less convinced that "Apocalypse" is an important album. Symphonic arrangements, lush orchestration and occasional female vocals are largely spoiling the rock sound of the band and bring zero interest to my ears. At times it all sounds like coming as soundtrack from a classic Holywood melodramatic films of the 1950s... nice to listen but out of the scope of prog rock daring achievements.

If you are a fusion fan, you will definitely need to hear this album, simply because it comes from the nest of a premiere exponent of the genre. Otherwise, I will not go as far as recommending it to larger, general prog rock community.


Report this review (#127569)
Posted Thursday, July 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Often ignored in favor of their better-known releases, M.O.'s 1974 project 'Apocalypse' was an ambitious gathering of musicians from all backgrounds led by McLaughlin and his second Mahavishnu incarnation of Ralphe Armstrong on bass, the percussion of Michael Walden, Gayle Moran's keys and voice, and Jean-Luc Ponty's violins. They are supported by the London Symphony Orchestra with George Martin handling production and except for a few passages of dated jam-rock, it is among the best things they ever did. In '74, it was nothing terribly original in the brave new world of progressive fusion to employ a full orchestra, or to dabble in realms never meant to meet. What is special about this session is that it worked so well. And it is filled with beautiful, powerful music.

A solemn piano, John's strings and a vibration of brass gingerly awaken 'Power of Love', sad and reflective, a nourishing piece that tugs at the heart. The mood changes and this record comes alive on the enormous 'Vision is a Naked Sword', a titan of strings, horns, and Walden's cracking skins. It expands with rushes of change, huge movements, migrations west, east, and the two crashing into each other with great joy. And McLaughlin's fevered frenzy out in front, possessed, as if he's trying to squeeze out several lines at once. 'Smile of the Beyond' is pleasant enough and features Gayle Moran's engaging mezzo-soprano, the London Symphony giving their all with much pride and no prejudice as heard in 'Wings of Karma' and the sublime 'Hymn to Him', a 19- minute roiling cauldron of musical interaction, atom-smashing, skattered altercations and the occasional explosion of life. An album that remains a passed-over high point in the all too often bourgeois world of fusion, and perhaps John McLaughlin's finest hour as leader.

Report this review (#136450)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Mahavishnu Orchestra meets an actual orchestra, London Symphony, that is. MO vs. the LSO? This has got to be one of the greatest integrations of an orchestra into progressive music and I suspect they all had blisters on their fingers by the end of the recording session. These guys all get a tough workout.

Many people lament the break up of the original MO lineup, but I'm not in that camp. Apocalypse is John McLaughlin's first outing as the MO without any of the original members and I love that period but, this is my favorite MO album. The music here is very apocalyptic, but some of the song titles don't quite fit the theme: Power of Love, Smile of the Beyond, Hymn To Him. Vision Is A Naked Sword and Wings of Karma, I can kind of get.

The Power of Love is a rather mellow starter for the album, but it has some kind of ominous undertones going on in the music.

After a brief moment of silence, Vision Is A Naked Sword, sneaks up on you and the music is very dark. Over 14 minutes of intense Mahavishnu and London Symphony Orchestra interplay. But it's not all totally bleak. Almost like a musical short story.

Things mellow out again with Smile of the Beyond, but not completely. And you get a first for MO, vocals, female vocals no less. Gayle Moran, who is also the keyboardist for this lineup has a really pretty voice. There will be more pieces to come in the soon to be future, but fortunately vocals in MO have been occasional. Usually not much room for them in this kind of music. This one starts out with Moran singing and the other orchestra, but then the band really takes off and jams about midway, before a return to the beginning, still a little bit of ominous feeling at the end. I think Moran's keyboard work is a little bit of a departure from the style that Jan Hammer, who preceded her.

Wings of Karma starts off continuing and intensifying the quiet ominous sound. After giving LSO a could opportunity play, the band really takes off again. Then you get the band and the orchestra trading licks and the music starts to pick up speed. And then, a sudden mellow ending.

Hymn To Him also starts out mellow. There's enough music packed into this one track to fill up a whole album by itself. This track is sort of the Supper's Ready of jazz-rock/fusion. Actually, it probably takes you to even more places musically. The hectic climactic section of this piece goes on for several minutes and I'd be highly surprised if everyone's fingers aren't blistered by the time slows down. Things end on a rather upbeat note.

The interplay of all the musicional elements is just spectacular. Jean-Luc Ponty, Ralphe Armstrong, and Michanel Walden are excellent successors to Jerry Goodman, Rick Laird, and Billy Cobham Respectively and respectfully. Also of note, the album was produced by George Martin of Beatles fame and Michael Tilson-Thomas conducted the London Symphony Orchestra.

And of course, things just wouldn't be the same without John, who is the core. Can't compliment the guitar work on here enough.

Hey, I was looking at the credits on the back of the CD case, and I notice Columbia Records is at 666 Fifth Avenue. Hmm.

Report this review (#138357)
Posted Friday, September 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
1 stars The first time I listened to this album, I was annoyed, I found it very boring. Maybe too long (Hymn To Him, almost 20 minutes, is really a bore by moments, even if it contains some good parts), maybe to...monstruous. Too symphonistic for me. It seems like John McLaughlin (oh, excuse me, [I]Mahavishnu [/i] at this time !) wanted to go further than Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (title track) in the symphonic experimentations. At his own risks. With the help from George Martin for the production, and with, from others, Jean-Luc Ponty. But the magic, the splendor of the first releases (Birds Of Fire) is gone. Apocalypse is a deceiving album from the Mahavishnu Orchestra (really an orchestra then). Only for completionists.
Report this review (#162837)
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars I had become an immediate fan of the Mahavishnu Orchestra thanks to fiery fusion that encompasses their first two studio efforts, INNER MOUNTING FLAME and BIRDS OF FIRE. This is where I toss out my Mahavishnu Orchestra fan card; APOCALYPSE is incredibly weak in comparison to the first two.

APOCALYPSE is much more classical string instrument laden than any prevoius Mahavishnu attempt. They've had Jerry Goodman play violin, but aside from that (here, Jean Luc-Ponty replaces Goodman), what sounds like a full string orchestra is also integrated into the music. So, if anything, the ambitions here would almost put this as the best Mahavishnu album...ever.

I don't think so. All the orchestra does is really bog down what could've been a nice composition. The orchestra is used in almost a cliche manner; every song begins and ends with a soft orchestra thing with maybe a couple of band instruments as well. I find myself bored half of the time with these pieces. However, even when the whole band kicks in, I still find myself bored. The solos from guitar and violin are starting to get old by now, the pieces are just too long for my sake, and the whole album just sounds like a ''business as usual'' kind of thing even though there's a new Mahavishnu Orchestra here.

The most interesting track here might be ''Smiles of the Beyond'' because it has what no other Mahavishnu song had before; vocals. I honestly think they're a bit too much, but they're nonoffensive, so I let them pass.

My overall opinion of Mahavishnu Orchestra took a digger here. This is for those who like orchestras and don't mind the odd classical, jazz, funk hybrid type of thing. I find this to be too boring to put on repeat, and hearing the album only makes me realize how much I crave for ''Meeting of the Spirits'' again.

Report this review (#244694)
Posted Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
5 stars The only Mahavishnu Orchestra album which actually features an Orchestra!

Apocalypse by Mahavishnu Orchestra is the first album without the classic line-up of their first two albums, with this album(and the following one) John created something totally different from what the band was known of, even more-so with the addition of the London Symphony Orchestra bringing delights and majesty the band had never showed before, leave the over-complicated and frenetic passages, and technically brilliant musicianship to the original line-up.

Mind you that this new line-up is no less than incredible; drummer Michael Walden full-fills with blasting and unpredictable fills, Jean-Luc Ponty shines like he always has done, Ralph Armstrong plays some thrilling bass lines and Mahavishnu himself is no less than extraordinary, as you should expect. Gayle Moran is the only member of this line-up that doesn't spark as you would expect, she's a subtle though efficient jazzy keyboard player, but Jan Hammer who played in the original line-up really overshadows her, the main reason of this is that Gayle doesn't play any solos, so what this new line-up doesn't have that made so characteristic of the first line-up are those breathtaking duels between guitar, synths and violin, though that does not take that there will be exceptional duels between Ponty's violin and John's guitar allthrough this record.

The overall result is an original blend of Classical arrangements and Jazz Rock interpolations, the former obviously being played by the Symphony and the later by the original band. Mind you this is not like Time and a Word by Yes in which the orchestra or symphony plays along the musicians on board, Apocalypse is very much in the style of Jon Lord compositions in which both Classical and Rock appear but both have their separate turn and rarely touch each other: both have their own separate moment.

Exception to the ''rule'' would be the opener, Power of Love, in which showcases a delightful and gentle orchestral arrangement led by John's sweet, slow paced, acoustic guitar. A beautiful entry to this album which reminds me of John's tranquil, though mind-opening work on Natural Elements by Shakti.

The next song, Vision is a Naked Sword, on the other hand sticks to the ''rule'' of each having their own turn; starting with the orchestra in a very glorious and powerful way, all soon to fade and let the jazz rock band come-in and do what they know best: play Jazz Rock. This song pretty much sums up what this line-up was capable of producing; Jean-Luc Ponty with his electric violin shining underneath the orchestra and over-top John's guitar, Michael Walden delivering always strong and unpredictable drumming, Ralph adds every now and then some cool bass lines, Gayle some typical jazzy keyboards, finally John with a wah-wah sends us an unforgettable frenetic solo spot, and of course the London Symphony Orchestra with the main role of playing the central theme in that glorious and powerful way I mentioned before.

Carries on, Smile of the Beyond, in which starts-off sweetly like Power of Love with the smooth Orchestra, this time with Gayle Moran's lovely vocals! However, unlike the opener, Smile of the Beyond does have the separate turns well-defined, after the 4 minutes of the charming orchestra it all becomes an up-lifting Jazz Rock fest with McLaughlin and Ponty taking the lead with some astonishing solos.

The album continues in the same vein with Wings of Karma, introductory part made by the London Symphony Orchestra, while the main attraction being made by the rock-instrumentalists.

Finally the 19 minute Hymn to Him is the peak of the whole band (including the symphony orchestra). If you need music that mixes both classical and jazz/rock in such an extraordinary and original way, you either recur to this or the First Movement of the Concerto for Group and Orchestra written by Jon Lord. Hymn to Him has it all, besides amazing jazzy sections and magnificent orchestral sections, and even a mind-blowing duel between both; this proves that John can make really outstanding music without having to be technical in any way like their first two albums had to be.

Apocalypse ends up being a real eruption of incredibly gorgeous and exciting fresh music, that is if you can handle an Orchestra in your music in which it has a main role as a theme and mood settler. If you can't handle that, you'll either find this boring after some few minutes which happened to me when I first heard this or will just say this isn't the real Mahavishnu Orchestra just because it doesn't have much of the fierce and raw jazziness and rock prowess their first two albums had.

Mind you, this album is not strictly for Jazz Rock/Fusion fans, open-minded Symphonic fans might want to have a peek at this as well. All in all a really emotional, powerful and progressive album, which deserves no less than 5 stars.

Report this review (#245088)
Posted Sunday, October 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars In the years when I terrorized my neighbours in boarding school with my Mahavishnu cassettes, I sort of skipped this album. Despite the orchestra it didn't seem to add anything relevant to the Mahavishnu sound. I also found it long-winded and thought that the orchestra was more distracting then adding anything.

After a gentle intro, Vision brings the orchestra to the fore and adds some Prokofiev flavour to the Mahavishnu sound. While I like both the orchestral part and the improvisation here, I don't think they sit really well together, except for the last few seconds where the orchestra joins the band. It rather feels like a copy-paste job then like a good example of integrating an orchestra into rock.

Smile of the Beyond introduces vocals. It's not without merit but jazz vocals like this are not really my cup of tea. (Who knows, maybe in a couple of years they will be). Halfway in the band joins for a short but rather generic jam. Wings of Karma starts with a classical introduction that reminds me of Prokofiev's more romantic moments. Again I don't think the interplay with the orchestra to be very successful, so if I want to hear this ambience I'll rather play Romeo and Juliet.

Up until now, I'd say we've been listening to a 3.5 star album, so obviously the 19 minute Hymn will make it flip one way or the other. Frankly it sounds like a bad mix of a rather uninspired fusion jam with a romantic film score. No, this one will flip to the 3 stars.

It looks like my taste hasn't changed a bit in 20 years. Is this an indication that I always judged this album correctly? Or is this something I should really worry about :-/

Report this review (#252455)
Posted Tuesday, November 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars On this album, John McLaughlin completely rebuilt his Mahavishnu Orchestra. Every member has changed. And they didn't miss a beat. With the addition of the London Symphony Orchestra, this album was truly symphonic jazz rock fusion (whew!).

The album is great, but the only five star song here is Vision Is A Naked Sword (What does that mean?), which features Michael Walden's amazing drumming, with the LSO blasting away power chords. Oh, and McLaughlin plays some nice guitar on this as well.

The opening track, Power Of Love, serves as a light introduction to the new band. And Smile Of The Beyond features Gayle Moran's fine vocals (no wonder Chick Corea liked her). Hymn To Him is an almost twenty minute epic that has some nice sections, but tends to break down at times.

Report this review (#290445)
Posted Thursday, July 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a lovely cover art! And the album itself is also a beauty. Only lately I've gotten into MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA (15 years ago I generally didn't much enjoy Birds Of Fire), and of the four albums I've now listened to, this one is my favourite. Up to my taste, the first two albums - which are rated the highest - are quite uneven. No, I don't mean uneven objectively (I really don't argue them being among the most amazing classics of fusion, and superb what comes to technical brilliance) but uneven subjectively, measured against MY enjoyment. That is, I don't necessarily enjoy music that shines with technical skill and bursts with energy.

This one is surely the most symphonic MO album, and not only because it features The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Two of the five tracks are long (14 and 19 minutes) and only one under 6 minutes, and none has dull moments. I also like the presence of vocals. So, this music stands firmly on THREE musical continents, jazz, rock and classical, with and without vocals, and does it in the most natural manner. It may lose the comparison to the preceding albums what comes to "pyrotechnics" but it's more harmonic and beautiful.

Report this review (#337739)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
1 stars After the original Mahavishnu Orchestra lineup dissolved over bitter arguments about John McLaughlin's control over the band, John pieced together a new lineup to start afresh. Not one to balk at a challenge, he also decided that the new lineup's first studio album would be an ambitious attempt to combine a fusion band and the London Symphony Orchestra - with the legendary George Martin producing.

The Mahavishnus weren't the first band to attempt to combine their playing with that of an orchestra. They were also, as Apocalypse shows, not the first band to discover when doing so that all they achieved was a murky compromise which robbed both the band and the orchestra of their power. The fact is that the original Mahavishnu lineup didn't need an orchestra to lay thick snoozeworthy string segments over their music, because they had all the power and energy they needed right there in the lineup. McLaughlin's attempts to integrate the orchestra into the Mahavishnu sound are hamfisted and awkward, and too often consist of the orchestra playing a bit, then the band playing a bit, then the orchestra playing a bit with perhaps one or two band members soloing, and so on in that vein, with the end result being that on half the album we don't get to hear the full Mahavishnu lineup as it existed at the time playing together as a unit. All too often, the orchestra is drafted in to play parts which on the previous albums would have been handled by a band member, rather than adding something unique to the sound, which seems like a waste of time.

When the band *do* get to play as a unit, however, the reasoning behind minimising the amount of time they spend doing so becomes all too clear: whilst the individual members all have decent chops, the lineup simply hadn't gelled as a unit at this point in time, and their interplay is lacklustre and misses the firey vigour that characterised the previous incarnation of the band. What John and the crew needed to do at this point in time was rehearse exhaustively and work on creating a band album on which the group could have a chance to get used to each other. By taking on the orchestra project, the band ended up creating a huge challenge for themselves well before they were ready to face it, and no number of string players are able to cover for the lack of confidence on show.

Compositionally, John seems to be running out of ideas too, with most of the material on here being highly reminiscent of previous Mahavishnu tracks... except not quite as good, because of the awkwardness of cramming the orchestra into them and because the lineup were not yet as comfortable and confident as the previous band were. A few limp attempts to incorporate vocals into the band's music crop up here and there and only serve to embarrass the band further. The band's playing is also sabotaged by some baffling production decisions by George Martin - precisely why is John's guitar sound so weak and faint on this album?

Where the band get to play together without the orchestra butting in, Apocalypse is an interesting but otherwise forgettable fusion album, one which would have probably been forgotten about if it weren't for the Mahavishnu name attached to it. But the botched incorporation of the orchestra as a desperate attempt to cover up the cracks makes the album a tiresome chore to listen to. When you consider the fire and the fury of The Inner Mounting Flame, I'd say that things have come to a pretty sorry pass when I can say that a Mahavishnu Orchestra album bored me, but that's precisely what Apocalypse does. The result is an album I can recommend only to the most uncritical of McLaughlin cultists.

Oh, and there's no flute players on this album so I don't know what the cover artist was thinking.

Report this review (#516615)
Posted Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Hmm........ Not exactly what I expected from this band. The monster riff maisters Mahavishnu Orchestra goes full symphony orchestra on this album.

The contrast to the first two albums is pretty big. Not to mention the follow up album to this one. The full orchestra bit in the middle who goes on like in a film music score. There is also a female vocalist here on one of the songs. That is the less interesting half of this album. Thankfully, this album also includes an aural feast with John McLaughlin's guitars and Jean-Luc Ponty electric violins who gives some good hints about the band from the previous two albums. This album also include some very potent jazz too.

As an album, Apocalypse is indeed an oddity. It has far more in common with a symph prog concept album than a Mahavishnu Orchestra album. The music though is good though. Apocalypse is by no means a turkey. It is just a bit odd though. A good oddity is my conclusion.

3 stars

Report this review (#592865)
Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Mahavishnu Orchestra is one of the most famous and acknowledged fusion rochestras in the history of rock music. They were'nt active for so many years and their classical studio albums aren't very many but have important places in the history of prog rock. Especially "Birds of fire" of course but also their debut "The Inner Mounting Flame". Now I'm going to write some words about their fourth record(if we count their live record) "Apocalypse" from 1974, fourty years ago this year. It is a long record with a lovely cover where we see a flutist and a forest which is reflected by a lake. The record features, besides the band, the London Symphony Orchestra and it was produced by George Martin. The line up were John McLoughlin(guitar), Jean-Luc Ponty (electric violins), Michael Walden(drums, percussion, vocals, clavinet), Ralph Armstrong(bass, contra bass, vocals) and Gayle Moran(keyboards, vocals).

"Smile of the Beyond" has lyrical vocals which caresses the listener is a very harmonic musical landscape. This is the album's only track with vocals and taht is a bit peculiar in the world of mahavishnu Orchestra(7/10). This orchestra plays in one way very typical jazz music with long compositions where they vary some themes but at the same time the music is very rich and complex. The music is full of heavily expressed details and the compositions are well made. It not feels not like improvisation at all, which a lot of jazz music tend to in my opinion. The longest tracks are the album's best. "Vision is a naked sword"(9/10) is so magnificent and epic and balances all the time between being very pretentious and very humble(9/10). "Hymn to him"(8/10) is the longest song and experimental but in many ways classical. The cooperation with the London Symphonic Orchestra is interesting and worked out well. "Power of love"(7/10) and "Wings of Karma"(7/10) aren't the most itneresting songs I have heard but they are still harmonic and very enjoyable to hear. Over all this record is an excellent addition to a music collection and if you like fusion it is a must have. I rate the record 3.8 which will be four stars. Best track: "Vision is a naked sword"

Report this review (#1373917)
Posted Friday, February 27, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars This was the first album with the new lineup of John McLaughlin, Jean-Luc Ponty, Narada Michael Walden, teenager Ralph Armstrong, and Gayle Moran (Chick Corea's wife). It seemed the egos of the original lineup got so big they exploded like balloons causing the split. Here on Apocalypse I really felt McLaughlin bit off more than he could chew. When it's just the band going into a jam, it's some really nice fusion, which not up to the greatness of Birds of Fire or The Inner Mountain Flame, still nice. It's the orchestral and vocal passages I really felt bog things down. The orchestra was courtesy of the London Symphony Orchestra, but isn't quite so successful as say, the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed or Procol Harum's Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, but at least still had better orchestra/band interaction than Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orcestra. I'm sure McLaughlin had those albums in mind, when he wanted a fusion version of said albums. The album isn't too bad, but didn't leave much of an impression on me. So I was really surprised about their next album Visions of the Emerald Beyond, as it was a gigantic relief to me, it's a MUCH better album, about 90% instrumental, only minimal use of vocals, and no orchestra. I much prefer that album over Apocalypse. Apocalypse is probably something you'd get after you get the classic albums from the original lineup, and Visions from the Emerald Beyond.
Report this review (#1539068)
Posted Sunday, March 13, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Apocalypse is the third album of MO, with quite a different line-up that many have already described in other reviews. The largest noticeable change is the orchestra inclusion to create a symphonic, sometimes overblown sound. Titles of songs are somewhat pompous as are maybe ambitions. I find violin and bass playing better than on the previous two albums but sadly, keyboards and drumming is not comparable to the first line-up.

"Power of love" is a mellow reflective acoustic guitar/violin piece that announces revolutionary change in MO sound. "Vision of a naked sword" sounds like composed for first two albums, quite reminiscent of those years however we have orchestra instead of violin performing the wall of sound. I prefer more earthy sections without orchestral elements with the violin, drumming and guitar. Playing is less intensive, clearer and less overwhelming although more than most other fusion bands could handle ;)

"Smile of the beyond" could have certain Return to Forever resemblance with the leading melody and female vocal, and it finally gets moving in the second half with speedy rhythm.

The last epic - "Hymn to Him" has modern classical music/soundtrack feeling in some parts but also ferocious violin/guitar/drum parts. I like quite well audible bass playing on this track and Rhodes improvisation.

This experimental and ambitious album is worth listening to.

Report this review (#2337660)
Posted Saturday, February 22, 2020 | Review Permalink

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